Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), announcing on Monday in Indianapolis that he will not seek re-election. (AJ Mast/AP)
Sen. Evan Bayh, the Indiana Democrat who stunned the nation and his party on Monday by announcing he will not seek re-election in November, spoke to Robert Siegel, host of NPR's All Things Considered, for tonight's program.
As he has said all week, one of his main reasons for deciding to leave the Senate is that, with 60 votes seemingly needed to pass anything these days, nothing is getting done. Demanding the magic number of 60 is a tactic "abused" by the Senate minority, Bayh said. He said he would support lowering the threshold from 60 to 55 -- the "right way to go," he thought -- reminding us that when his father, Birch Bayh, was in the Senate (1963-80), lawmakers lowered the magic number from 67.
He also got a bit wistful about the filibuster itself; make 'em do what Jimmy Stewart did in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, if they want to hold up legislation. If the Republicans feel that strongly about stopping this or that, Bayh said, "make them go to the floor" and actually filibuster, rather than simply threaten it, as is the custom today.
He was less committal to supporting the Reconciliation process regarding health care; that is, less willing to rock the boat by changing the rules that would allow health care legislation to pass by a simple majority than the current 60. Bayh said he "might" support it, acknowledging that it could have "negative consequences" for getting the two parties to work together. (My thought: can the relationship between the Ds and the Rs get any worse than it is now?) Bayh said his "gut" was to avoid resorting to Reconciliation if at all possible. But not passing health care is unacceptable, he added, and so he would be open to going that route if all else failed.
As for the rumors in the blogosphere that he is planning on running for president, the 54-year old Bayh said he was "not thinking about it" at all, and that he is a strong supporter of President Obama. He said he thinks he can do more on a "smaller stage," either in the private sector, or at a university or in a philanthropic capacity.
You're remaining a Democrat, yes?, Robert asked. Bayh said of course -- it's in his family's DNA. But he did end that thought by saying he "loves my country more." And, in another portion of the interview, he made a point of criticizing both parties, saying there's "partisanship" on one side and an "unwillingness on the other to compromise."
And what about Republican complaints that he deliberately announced his decision to retire right before the filing deadline? Bayh acknowledged that it did play a role in his decision, but not the way the GOP thinks. He said that with the filing deadline approaching, he knew he had to make a decision; he didn't want to announce he was running, only to change his mind later. But did he leave his party in the lurch by not running, when polls showed he would win? Bayh said he was "not the only Democrat capable to holding the seat," and expects that whomever is the party's nominee, he or she will have an "excellent chance of winning."